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Cabaret

Also see Sharon's review of Richard III

Cabaret
Lisa O'Hare and members of the ensemble
In Reprise's production of Cabaret, director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge has chosen to emphasize the time period of the show by giving the Kit Kat Klub dancers Charleston-style choreography (and designer Kate Bergh keeps the theme going with flapper costumes). Bryce Ryness's Emcee, decked out in tails, is sporting a cane that's a bit too small for his height, requiring him to lean down when he rests on it, giving him an initial impression of not just harmlessness, but frailty. Wrap it all up and you've got a "Willkommen" that's tame and non-threatening. Cliff's introduction tells us there was a city called Berlin, and our opening picture of that city is of a pretty happy place. And this impression of the Kit Kat Klub doesn't change much until the "Kick Line" at the top of the second act; there's nothing that goes on here that's any more naughty than a Benny Hill sketch.

Lisa O'Hare delivers a Sally Bowles who is strictly headliner material. Her "Don't Tell Mama" is flirty in a kittenish sort of way. It isn't easy to sell this sort of burlesque number, but O'Hare nails it from beginning to end. (Her end-of-song removal of her fringed dress, to reveal something significantly skimpier, may be one of the least necessary strips in theatre history, as she completely owns both the audience in the Kit Kat Klub, and in the Freud Playhouse, without it.) O'Hare carries this characterization of Sally off the Kit Kat stage. Her coquettish flapper girl (armed with long cigarette holder and glittery headband) easily worms her way into Cliff's apartment, and, ultimately, his heart.

The production is a mixture of songs seen in other incarnations. "Meeskite" has been removed completely. Cliff gets "Don't Go" instead of "Why Should I Wake Up" and Sally has "Maybe This Time," although the two are sung together, with "Maybe this Time" serving as Sally's internal monologue in response to Cliff's plea.

"Maybe this Time" is absolutely critical to O'Hare's portrayal of Sally, as it is the only time we see the real person beneath the frivolous girl for whom life is a neverending party (cabaret, whatever). As we're privy to Sally's unspoken thoughts here, O'Hare drops the girlish singing voice she's been using all along, and lets out her rich, beautiful, true voice. Even if the lyrics of the song don't entirely fit with the scene as created, O'Hare's rendition is so stunning, you don't care.

Of course, when Sally is as good a cabaret performer as O'Hare makes her, when Cliff calls her untalented in the second act, it isn't a harsh dose of reality—it's just Cliff being a jerk. (After all, he's the writer who has spent months not writing.) Jeff McLean doesn't quite figure out how to reconcile Cliff's jerkness and occasionally painful innocence with the fact that he seems to be the only one on stage aware of the rising Nazi menace; the result is a Cliff that is quickly forgotten.

Milgrom Dodge recognizes that the "poignant heart of the story" is not found in Sally and Cliff, but in the later-in-life romance between Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider. Mary Gordon Murray is absolutely splendid in her first and last numbers—her "So What?" is a perfect combination of wisdom and comedy, and her "What Would You Do" bookends it with wisdom and sorrow. In between, Murray is merely competent. On opening night, she was plagued by two wardrobe malfunctions. (I can overlook one, but by the second, I was distracted by the thought that perhaps this was an intentional part of her characterization. And why didn't anyone on stage save her with a simple, "Fraulein, adjust your skirt"?) Robert Picardo is a sweet and gentle Herr Schultz; it's unclear why this production chose to take "Meeskite" out of the show. But, worse than the loss of that number is the fact that Schultz gets so drunk at his engagement party, he is passed out on the table by the time Fraulein Kost starts her threatening "Tomorrow Belongs To Me." As far as I'm concerned, the truly disgusting thing about Kost's very-nearly overtly Nazi rendition of "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" isn't that she sings it, it's that everyone at the party lets her, and many even join in. It seems somehow easier for them to do so if the only Jew in the room is not conscious of what's going on; nobody has to look him in the eye. As with other moments in the show, this production chooses the safer, rather than the more disquieting, path.

There are certainly stellar moments in this show—most of them coming from O'Hare. But by the time of the finale (which takes its cue from the Sam Mendes revival, without going nearly as far as it did), it has been an evening that entertained, but never triggered an emotional response.

Cabaret runs through September 25, 2011, at the Freud Playhouse at UCLA. For tickets and information see www.reprise.org

Reprise Theatre Company Jason Alexander, Artistic Director; Christine Bernardi Weil, Managing Director; Gilles Chiasson, Producing Director presents Cabaret. Book by Joe Masteroff; Based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood. Music by John Kander; Lyrics by Fred Ebb. Broadway production directed by Harold Prince. Produced for the Broadway State by Harold Prince. Scenic Design John Iacovelli; Costume Design Kate Bergh; Lighting Design Jared A. Sayeg; Sound Design Philip G. Allen; Associate Choreographer Bradley Benjamin; Associate Music Director Lloyd Cooper; Additional Orchestrations Christy Crowl; Music Coordinator Joe Soldo; Technical Director Brad Enlow; Production Stage Manager Jill Gold; Casting Director Amy Lieberman, CSA; Marketing Allied Live, LLC; Press Representative Davidson & Choy Publicity; Company Manager Rob Rudolph. Music Direction by Christy Crowl. Directed and Choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge.

Cast:
Clifford Bradshaw Jeff McLean
The Emcee Bryce Ryness
Kit Kat Klub Girls & Boys:

Frenchy Aurore Joly
Fritzie Katherine Malak
Lulu Janelle Junio
Rosie Bradley Benjamin
Apache Couple Brett Leigh & Jenna Coker-Jones
Cigarette Girl Rachel Crissman
Waiters Christopher Zenner, Josh Walden
Bartender Justin Michael Wilcox
Busboy Jonathan Mercer
Ernst Ludwig Zach Bandler
Customs Officer Mark C. Reis
Fraulein Schnieder Mary Gordon Murray
Herr Schultz Robert Picardo
Fraulein Kost Katrina Lenk
Sally Bowles Lisa O'Hare
Bobby Brett Leigh
Victor Christopher Zenner
Max Mark C. Reis
Two Ladies Rachel Crissman & Jenna Coker-Jones
"Her" Josh Walden
The Ensemble Bradley Benjamin, Rachel Crissman, Aurore Joly, Jenna Coker-Jones, Janelle Junio, Brett Leigh, Katherine Malak, Jonathan Mercer, Mark C. Reis, Josh Walden, Justin Michael Wilcox & Christopher Zenner


Photo: Ed Krieger


- Sharon Perlmutter






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